New Delhi: On August 2, the leading news of the day was Union home minister Amit Shah reporting that he has contracted COVID-19.
Shah, nestled in a Lutyen’s Delhi bungalow, immediately shifted himself to Medanta, a private hospital with five-star facilities in neighbouring Haryana. Shah has ailments like diabetes, which place him in the vulnerable category of COVID-19 patients.
News soon came that a team of doctors from All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) were also being assigned to visit Medanta, located in Haryana’s Gurugram, to examine Shah.
Prior to this, in recent memory, such a step was taken by the Union health ministry just once. A team of specialists from Delhi’s AIIMS was rushed to a private hospital in Chennai in 2016, when former Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalitha, was recuperating. The AIADMK chief was an ally of the ruling BJP. But that action was more a governmental probe on whether the information being provided by the doctors at the Apollo Hospital on the health condition of Jayalalithaa was correct, rather than to help with the treatment of the politician.
From initial reportage, it appears that in Shah’s case, it is to assist the private hospital in taking care of him and “oversee” his treatment.
Obviously then, the question pops up: Why did Shah not check into AIIMS, the Union health ministry’s top hospital, instead?
Also, why did he choose to travel to the neighbouring state for private medical care when there has been a tradition of Central ministers checking into AIIMS or the government-owned Safdarjung Hospital next door?
The trauma centre at AIIMS, with around 260 beds, was one of the first facilities to be turned into a designated COVID-19 hospital. Are the facilities not up to the standards to treat a Union minister?
On April 14, to coincide with the Indian Air Force’s aerial fly-pasts and showering of flower petals on several hospitals across the country to show gratitude to doctors, paramedics, sanitation staff and other frontline workers fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, Shah had tweeted (in Hindi):
“India salutes its heroic corona warriors. I assure you that the Modi government and the entire country stand beside you. We have to free the nation from coronavirus by turning challenges into opportunities and set an example for the world by creating a healthy, prosperous and strong India. Jai Hind!”
देश के गृह मंत्री के नाते मैं जनता को पुनः आश्वस्त करता हूँ कि देश में अन्न, दवाई व अन्य रोजमर्रा की चीज़ों का प्रयाप्त भण्डार है, इसलिए किसी भी नागरिक को परेशान होने की आवश्यकता नहीं है। साथ ही संपन्न लोगों से निवेदन करता हूँ कि आप आगे आकर आसपास रहने वाले गरीबों की सहायता करें।
— Amit Shah (@AmitShah) April 14, 2020
Perhaps it needs a reminder today that those ‘corona warriors’ that Shah had batted for have primarily been the health workers at government hospitals – on the job since the pandemic broke out in the country in end-March. Many of them have fallen victim to the virus.
Shah’s August 2 action, however, only puts the spotlight on other top politicians across party lines who have reported COVID-19 positive, most of whom also opted for private hospitals than showing any trust in the country’s public health facilities – still used by lakhs of Indians who can’t afford private healthcare.
Tamil Nadu and Karnataka
Take Tamil Nadu governor Banwarilal Purohit. His COVID-19 related tests were conducted at Kauvery Hospital, a private facility in Chennai. When the report came positive on August 1, he rushed to another private entity, the Apollo Hospital. In that state so far, four ministers have tested positive.
While power minister P. Thangamani had also admitted himself to Apollo hospital for treatment, his colleagues – higher education minister K.P. Anbalagan and cooperation minister Sellur K. Raju – got into another private facility in the capital city, the Madras Institute of Orthopaedics and Traumatology.
Labour minister Nilofer Kafeel had opted for home quarantine.
In the neighbouring Karnataka, soon after the news of Shah’s infection became public, news that the state’s chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa also had COVID-19 hit the headlines. He became the second chief minister, after Madhya Pradesh’s Shivraj Singh Chouhan, to catch the virus. Both promptly put their trust only in private facilities.
While Yediyurappa landed up at Bengaluru’s top private facility, the Manipal Hospital, Chouhan had also checked into the privately run Chirayu Hospital in Bhopal. Days later, three other ministers of the Chouhan ministry also tested positive for COVID-19. While one opted for home quarantine, the others – rural development minister Ramkhelawan Patel and cooperative minister Arvind Singh Bhadoria – also followed their leader’s footsteps and checked themselves into the Chirayu Hospital.
Opposition ruled states
In Punjab too, rural development minister Tript Singh Bajwa was treated at the Fortis Hospital in Mohali after the 77-year-old tested positive for the coronavirus.
Take Delhi health minister Satyendra Jain. On finding that he had COVID-19, he was first admitted to the Delhi government-run Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital but was later shifted to Max Hospital at Saket. He told reporters that he had to move to the private facility because until then, the Centre had not granted permission to the government hospital to carry out plasma therapy and the doctors had recommended it for him.
In Maharashtra, ministers Ashok Chavan and Dhananjaya Munde too didn’t go to any government hospital for their COVID-19 treatment. Both Chavan, a senior Congress leader of the state and the PWD minister, and Munde were treated at the privately-run Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai. Their colleague in Uddhav Thackeray’s cabinet, Jitendra Awhad, was admitted to the Fortis Hospital in Mumbai’s Mulund area.
Bihar and Jharkhand mark a change in trend
In Bihar and Jharkhand though, perhaps the dearth of super speciality private hospitals may be a reason for ministers and top politicians to check themselves into government-run facilities.
In Bihar, senior RJD leader and former Union minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh was admitted to AIIMS, Patna. So also Jibesh Kumar Mishra, the only legislator from the ruling dispensation to die of COVID-19.
However, Bihar minister and BJP MLA from Pranpur, Vinod Kumar Singh, was sent to a hotel in Kathihar district for isolation. The hotel had been turned into a COVID treatment facility. He is so far the only minister in the Nitish Kumar government to have tested positive for the virus.
Till now in Jharkhand, only one minister and a ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MLA have tested positive for the virus. While minister Mithilesh Thankur got admitted at Ranchi’s government-run Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences, MLA Mathura Mahto first checked into the state government-run Patliputra Medical College Hospital in Dhanbad, he was later shifted to the COVID-19 ward of the Jamshedpur Hospital run by the Tata group.
Some other politicians from across party lines have also received treatment in government hospitals to cure the coronavirus infection. Raman Patkar, a minister in the Vijay Rupani-led Gujarat government, got treated at the UN Mehta Hospital in Ahmedabad, a state-aided facility.
Congress MP Susmita Deb got admitted to the Silchar Medical College in Assam.
Another major exception was Uttar Pradesh technical education minister Kamal Rani Varun. She was treated at the state-run Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences in Lucknow before she passed away on August 2.